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Il trovatore: The No-Thinking Zone

by Sally Joe LaRue

Take one Spanish play. Let two overheated Italians work it over and you have-- Trovatore --the unthinking man's opera. George Bernard Shaw, who was not above a little melodrama himself--and certainly no slouch in the thinking department--opined of Trovatore that "thinking turns the story into pure absurdity."

The absurdity is sparked by the fate of an operatic Lindbergh baby who is given the evil eye by a Gypsy who wanders into his nursery. Or maybe the kid won a free palm reading: It's not real clear. Because no good intention goes unpunished, the Gypsy is given the full spa treatment--beating, stabbing and burning at the stake--by the baby's father, Count di Luna Sr. The crispy Gypsy's daughter makes off with the unnamed infant. Burnt baby bones are discovered. The di Luna family puts two and two together, coming up with well, maybe, four point five because, after all, DNA testing is centuries away and there's always the possibility Baby di Luna is alive.

Fast forward twenty years. Count di Luna Jr., elder brother of dead baby, is looking to roast Gypsy daughter Azucena on the same fire that consumed dear old mom. He is constantly distracted by his lust for dreamy lady-in-waiting, Leonora.

Leonora hears voices and falls madly in love with one of them, belonging to Manrico, a Gypsy troubadour. This irritates di Luna no end--until Leonora goes into such a swoon that she cannot distinguish one suitor from another and throws herself at the Count. Manrico's paper-thin faith in Leonora's love for him is torn by her Mr. Magoo mistake. He makes a feeble attack on the Count and them runs off to Mom who is, of course, Azucena.

As Manrico licks his wounds Mom regales him with the tale of her Mom's fiery demise and lets slip a damning detail: It was not the di Luna baby who was incinerated, but--for no very plausible reason--her own. Manrico begins to suspect that--Duh!--maybe he is the long lost di Luna The rush to doom becomes fast and furious. Leonora enters a convent. Di Luna's soldiers are overmatched by a clutch of nuns (!) and Leonora runs off with Manrico. The troubadour leaves her at the altar to save Mom from the stake. Mother and son become cellmates in di Luna's stronghold. Leonora swallows poison to save her almost-husband. Di Luna has the satisfaction of killing his annoying rival and Azucena gets the final Gotcha! of telling di Luna that he has killed--who else?--his own brother.

Costume dissonance: men dress nineteenth-century and women dress seventeenth. Super-sized non sequitur stage décor: A broken-down piano? A big Bunsen burner to wake the audience up when things get slow? A horse's head? Perhaps an homage to the racehorse murder of Godfather Part I , which set the all-time benchmark for revenge pranks. Lessons to be learned: When you go to throw a baby on a fire, just take one to avoid last-minute confusion. And: what goes around comes around, but on planet Verdi it can be one long, strange trip.